Mike Casazza: Oliver Luck has done his job
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There was a celebration on May 17, 2012, one West Virginia University President Jim Clements invited others to attend by picking up his cell phone to spread the good news.
His athletic director, the only one his fan and fundraising base ever really wanted, wasn't pursuing another job. After weeks of wondering, Clements had clarity from Oliver Luck.
"I knew his name had come up for Big East commissioner, the Big 12 commissioner, it had come up for Stanford, so I said, 'I'm just asking in general, because I know the next big university, like Texas, is going to need an A.D. and your name is going to be on the list, so I need to know because we've got a lot going on here,' " Clements told me on the phone that day.
"He said, 'Jim, I love it here, I love what I do. I think we're making great progress. This is my alma mater and this is where I want to be.' "
The pride and the pleasure weren't so much about Clements keeping Luck from Stanford, where three of his children went to college and a fourth might to do the same. It was about keeping Luck at all.
Continuity is the key in college administration and Clements, who's hired about two dozen people for leadership and management positions since taking office in June 2009, felt good about planting a flag in his athletic department that was changing conferences and doing all sorts of things to close the gaps that exist between WVU and other Big 12 schools.
There has been no such phone call this time around, and the one that may eventually come might not be good news for Clements.
The Mountaineers are aware that Luck is a favorite to replace DeLoss Dodds as the athletic director at Texas, the school Clements anticipated 17 months ago, and the school that gave Luck his Juris Doctor at the end of his NFL career spent not too far away in Houston.
Poke around and this is clear: Clements and so many others with a stake in whatever the Longhorns eventually decide all believe Luck is the "top candidate," as one person close to Luck put it Tuesday.
Reports arose out of Austin this week that Luck would meet with the selection committee tasked with finding a replacement. Absolutely no one was surprised at WVU.
The administration and athletic department understand Texas is Texas and the resources are there to make it one of the top jobs in college. Not top athletic director jobs. Top jobs. Those same people know Luck's connections to the school and to the area. They know that Longhorns President Bill Powers was a law professor at Texas when Luck was studying there.
They know it would make sense on many levels for Luck to take the job.
"It will be very hard for Oliver to say no," one administrator said.
This is not the say the Mountaineers are resigned to that outcome. They happen to believe their job is a good one and that it can challenge Luck in ways that Texas and its bank account cannot.
There are also political elements some want to believe can play a part in the process. Powers is not a universally liked figure at Texas and there are important people who would like to see him gone, so much so that they may be trying to make that happen now.
Would Luck be as popular now or as content later without Powers at Texas? Or would Luck be happier at WVU and, who knows, run one day for political office here?
There is also hope Luck is still obsessed with progressing WVU through what has been a choppy move to the new league, that he wants to finish the baseball stadium like he finished stadiums throughout Houston before, that he wants to help Dana Holgorsen with whatever the football coach needs to succeed, that he wants a clean conclusion to the multimedia rights deal that somehow spun out of his grasp and landed in court.
There is unquestionably a lot of work to be done, but there remains an equally strong belief inside WVU that Luck has accomplished plenty and could walk away knowing he made the school and the job better than when he arrived in June 2010. From there, the university can be expected to look long and far for Luck's replacement.
Clements, who was with Powers earlier this week for the Big 12's presidents meetings in Dallas, has had this occasion on his mind for quite some time now. He knows the names of people with whom he'd want to talk: Cincinnati Athletic Director Whit Babcock, Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens, Ohio Athletic Director Jim Schaus and Alabama Deputy Director of Athletics Shane Lyons will be mentioned because of their present roles and past ties to WVU.
Yet if he has to search, expect Clements to be enterprising. He'd be right to look for someone who can raise money and actualize projects, someone who's operated an organization and managed personnel, someone who can be authoritative in a meeting room and a locker room.
He locked in on Luck last time because Clements believed Luck was the only candidate for what Clements wanted and WVU needed done. Those things have either been accomplished or have been facilitated for a successor, which mean Clements can be choosier and let the job recruit itself like it could not last time.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.